The Future Of Youth Lacrosse
Today is International Women’s Day, so it is fitting that we’re featuring an interview with the world’s most decorated female lacrosse player. Taylor Cummings, just three years removed from a storybook collegiate career, has now entered the world of youth lacrosse. The three-time Tewaaraton Award winner is imparting wisdom on the next generation of female lacrosse players by running clinics and returning to the field as a coach. No one may be better positioned to discuss the future of youth lacrosse than Taylor and she was generous enough to sit down with LeagueApps this month for a full feature.
You finished your collegiate career as the most decorated female lacrosse player in the history of the sport. What have you been up to since your last day in College Park?
I received my finance degree, which was something that was really important to me. Admittedly, I had put off thinking about the future until the season was done. Because lacrosse is a spring sport, it didn’t force me to think ahead. I was just embracing the college experience for as long as possible and I had the mindset that I’d figure it all out when I finished.
After school, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. My dad had worked for Wells Fargo and he’s always been a businessman, which was part of the reason why I went and got a finance degree. He had always encouraged me to start my own business. He saw how much I loved the game and how much it had shaped me into who I am today. He saw lacrosse as this platform that had molded me. The fact that I played a role on successful teams, including Maryland and the US National team, he saw that as an indication that I could probably run my own business.
There wasn’t really anyone at that time doing clinics and camps on the girl’s side. It seemed like everything was available on the boy’s side. I looked at it as an opportunity that the women’s market definitely had a need, especially with the game growing so much. So I started my own company pretty much a week after I graduated and I spent that whole summer doing five, six, seven lessons a day to earn money to be able to afford a website.
At the beginning it was really a grind, I had to start from nothing. The first clinic I held was on Long Island and since then it has grown to maybe 40 or 50 over the last few years. We are on our way to 60 plus clinics in 2019, which is awesome. It’s going to be crazy but at the same time it’s going to be fun and has become my main source of income.
Growing the game through these camps and clinics across the country has been a focal point for me, but I’ve also begun coaching at McDonogh High School. This is my first full year as a coach, in addition to a handful of other commitments. I’m a member of the US Program, I play professional lacrosse, I am also a Redbull and Under Armour athlete. I am kind of all over the place and I like to say I don’t have a “real job.” Instead, I have four or five jobs spreading out my time. I don’t have a traditional 9-to-5 by any means.
How much did you learn from your experience at Maryland and how has that shaped your approach as a coach and ambassador of the game of lacrosse?
I learned so much on the field and so much off the field from my time at Maryland. I think the culture really changed when Cathy Reese came back to school. I believe this is her 13th season at Maryland as a head coach. Once she returned from her time out at Denver, she made us a mainstay in the Final Four. She is without a doubt a culture shaper. She was a huge reason why the culture at Maryland changed for the better. She is someone who I really look up to for a variety of reasons. She has such a passion not only for the Xs and Os and the on-field tactics, but her ability to connect with people is unmatched. She got her players to realize lacrosse is much more than playing with sticks and a ball and putting the ball in the back of the net, it is about people and relationships and bonds.
I wear many hats now as a professional, a player, a coach, and a businesswoman, but when it comes to my opportunities to teach my girls, I tap into the lessons I learned from Coach Reese. The message can be as simple as “if you love the people you are surrounded by and you share common goals it makes the end result a lot more fulfilling.” And at the same time, it just makes the process of getting there a lot more fun. As an adult now I look back and I appreciate all of the on-field criticism and tactical and lax IQ lessons, but more so I appreciate the life lessons. As a coach, when I am interacting with 8, 9 and 10 year-olds who get frustrated about not learning the tactics but have a great time, that is what I try to lean into. The on-field stuff will come, but if you love what you do and love who you do it with, that’s going to make everything a lot easier and a lot more enjoyable.
How different is the current lacrosse landscape as opposed to when you came up as a player 10 to 15 years ago?
I think so much has changed. On the field for men and women, the rules are continuing to evolve and develop. I think that those on-field changes are really helping increase the visibility and increase the draw for lacrosse because it continues to get faster. The quality of the product has contributed to the uptick in television coverage because this is a game that people want to watch.
And then off-the-field, social media has been a great way for us to help grow the game. You see so many lacrosse specific companies, creating incredible content on Instagram, Twitter and Youtube. Kids today represent the first generation that has grown up with a tablet or a phone in their hands and that gives them immediate access to sports they might not have known about without a digital presence. All of this gives the game a chance to compete on equal footing with every other mainstream sport, and that’s really exciting.
Despite the gains lacrosse has made in terms of exposure, there remain issues of accessibility. How critical do you think overcoming the hurdle will be for the future of youth lacrosse?
I think accessibility is a huge issue facing lacrosse. The game is expensive. The cost of equipment is a fixed cost. Girls need goggles, mouth guards, cleats and a stick and for the boys you need all the pads, helmet, and sticks. There is so much that goes into it and in a lot of ways these economic hurdles are similar to hockey. What’s exciting is that there are examples of organizations tackling these issues head-on. Charm City Youth Lacrosse, Harlem Lacrosse, different organizations within inner-city communities that tend to not have access to the equipment, have started to pop up. They’ve raised money and grown the game within these small communities.
At a larger level, you’ve seen leadership within the lacrosse world take steps in the right direction. US lacrosse, IWICA, and IWLCA are doing programs like Try Lax and different coaching clinics aimed at helping both players and coaches. Training coaches, perfecting their technique, is a great way to sustainably grow the game. Now Kylie Ohlmiller has a company now, I have a company, and there are a handful of companies on the men’s side all devoted to growing the game. We’re invested in bringing the game to new, up-and-coming areas. Whether it’s inner city outreach, charitable clinics, or having people from different organizations come to clinics for free, you’re just seeing a lot of generosity within the lacrosse community. This drive to help increase awareness and increase accessibility, that is one of the cool things about the state of our game right now. There are people who can make a living in it, but there are also a ton of people who just want to see the sport grow and have found a way to do both.
When you forecast out five years, would you like to be running a club team, a travel team, or would you like to be expanding your reach with clinics?
I have dabbled in a lot of different areas already, and I need to keep in mind that the environment here in Maryland is a little bit special. In Maryland it is definitely easier to point to the growth of the game and the fact that a ton of kids want to play and experience a higher level of quality at clinics and during private lessons. I’m sure it would be different in Kansas or Wyoming. But for right now or at least for the next five years, while I am still playing, I definitely want to stick more to my clinics, camps, and lessons for a couple of reasons. For starters, with the way our pro schedule works, I wouldn’t be able to run a club and be at everything and still be able to play because they all occur on the weekends, so just from a logistical standpoint, it wouldn’t really make sense. And two, right now while I am still completely in the community and playing and coaching and teaching and learning still, I love having the ability to interact with the next generation and actually be really hands on. So for right now, I’ll be sticking with clinics and camps, but as my playing days wind down, I think that is when it would make sense to make the switch. That could mean running my own facility or having a club team or running tournaments.
What is one issue in youth lacrosse that you really wish could be fixed with a snap of your fingers?
Honestly, I wish the accessibility component could be fixed. I wish everyone could have access to lacrosse economically. I wish that the sport could be more visible and there could be equal viewership of men’s and women’s, but that is just a battle we are going to have to continue to fight.
To a lesser degree, I wish these young people could participate in multiple sports for as long as possible. Kids are under such pressure to specialize so early to pick lacrosse or pick soccer or pick basketball and that makes me really sad. I was someone who played soccer and lacrosse all up through high school. I solely played lacrosse in college, so looking back I loved playing multiple sports because it kept lacrosse fresh and fun. It made the other sports a little bit more enjoyable because there wasn’t the pressure of a year-round schedule. I also credit the fact that I didn’t get injured because I was using different muscles. You’re now seeing so many kids with ACL tears and tendonitis and muscle tears because they are just working the same body part again and again and they don’t get a break and they don’t have a chance to truly rest. And it’s not just physical it’s also mental, you’re also seeing a lot of burnout because they are specialized in 5th or 6th grade.
So I wish we could turn back the pressure that often comes with club and ODP and all these different teams and just let kids kinda be kids and play on rec and travel teams for a while without the pressure of ‘oh my god if she is not on the team from 5th grade on, she’s not going to be able to play in college.’ There are so many different factors that go into a player advancing to the college level, and forcing reps and games and specialization on players isn’t a shortcut. In a lot of ways, it’s a hindrance to their chances of securing a scholarship and their enjoyment of the game.
How much of a role do you think technology will play in the future of lacrosse?
I think technology has been a huge asset to the sport. You’re seeing a ton of these lacrosse specific companies using their Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, Facebook and different social media platforms to create content to get buzz out there and get viewership of the sport. Platforms like The Lacrosse Network or Lax All-Stars streaming games so that people all over the country can, with the click of a button, view the sport is huge.
this 🙌🏼 thank you @B1GLacrosse for showing equality between the number of men’s & women’s games shown!! Both versions have incredible role models & talent to learn from, both are fun to play & watch, and now both are equally available to view on TV. @ESPNU see? It can be done. https://t.co/5yIVss021D
— Taylor Cummings (@tcummings_21) February 18, 2019
Lacrosse isn’t on TV like basketball every single night. We are not on every Sunday like the NFL, we don’t have a night of the week dedicated to the sport of lacrosse. That’s why all of these different social media channels, while they might not be traditional television, they are getting the sport out there all over the country and all over the world for people to see and that’s helping grow this sport from the ground up. I think people in the lacrosse community are seeing that technology is a real asset and we are figuring out the different ways to utilize it. The PLL is going to be on NBC Sports this summer, that’s awesome and that’s going to help the men’s side tremendously. On the women’s side, we are trying to get our World Cup games on the ESPN platform (ESPN, ESPN3, ESPN+). The more eyes we can get on lacrosse, the better, and using technology is probably the easiest way to do that.
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